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Latino Parents, Students Share Their Concerns With Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles

Stella M. Chávez
Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles spoke to parents and students at Casa Guanajuato in Oak Cliff earlier this week.

Seventy percent of the students in the Dallas Independent School District are Latino. That’s by the far the largest ethnic group. But some parents say they’d like a better relationship with the district. Earlier this week, Superintendent Mike Miles visited a predominately Latino neighborhood in Oak Cliff to talk to some of those parents and their kids.

Inside this cream and rust-colored brick building in Oak Cliff, you often hear the sounds of punching bags being hit.

Latino kids come here to train and let off a little steam after school. Casa Guanajuato is a place where they can go and not get in trouble. The 20-year-old center is also like a second home for transplants from the Mexican state of Guanajuato and their families. So the news that Superintendent Mike Miles would be visiting here caught some people by surprise. He didn’t put on his boxing gloves, though, and he stayed out of the ring.

“I wanna talk just a little bit about DISD, Miles said. “We are pushing hard because we want every student's education to be the best possible.”

“We didn’t know he was coming,” said Martha Ontiveros, who has three kids in the district ages 9, 17 and 18. When they heard about the superintendent’s visit, she and a few other parents decided to stay and ask him some questions.

Questions like, “Why is so much food wasted in school cafeterias?”

Ontiveros said she knows some kids throw away their milk and her youngest daughter has come home with extra food. She thinks they’re serving kids too much food.

With the help of an interpreter, another parent asked Miles about bilingual children and testing.

“She feels like their kids are not necessarily fully prepared in the English language and that’s why they’re failing the STAAR,” the interpreter said.

She said her children have been enrolled in bilingual ed classes and then transferred to English-only classrooms. She said that’s posed a challenge.

“She feels like their kids are not fully prepared in the English language and that’s why they’re failing the STAAR.”

Miles told her it’s a balancing act to find the best way to educate students who aren’t native English speakers.

“We have wean them off or take them off Spanish earlier – fourth or fifth grade,” he said. “But we also want them to be strong even in their native language before they get to middle school. So it is a tough choice.”

Miles talked about adding more bilingual teachers and setting high standards for kids who speak both English and Spanish.

“How do you say expectations in Spanish?” he asked the audience.

“Expectativas,” they answered.

“So high expectations for you, for me, for our teachers,” Miles said.

There were more students than parents at this meeting, so some kids asked their own questions. Like why there are so many tests. He told them the state actually reduced the number of required tests.

One kid asked what Miles called a “great question.”

"The question is ‘Were the STAAR tests meant to be hard?' Uh, yes," he said.

Miles compared the state tests to boxing. Boxers want to practice with opponents who are better than them, so they can become better. Miles said he wants the same for students in the district.

After about a half hour, Miles wrapped up the meeting. He said he usually meets with parents in schools but liked getting out into the community. Parent Veronica Tovar said she appreciated the superintendent’s visit. But she thought the meeting was too short and hopes Miles meets with parents in this neighborhood again.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.